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I'd rather see her lovely step

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You have time to stop when you see the stalled car. Time and the basic repair knowledge that comes from living alone in the sticks. You don’t have any tools with you, but if all else fails, you can help push somebody a few blocks to Bob’s.

The woman leaning on her car hood with her phone out is—well, she’s gorgeous, certainly, you get that pleasant clap of aesthetic attraction, but what really gets your attention is she’s radiant. Something about her spills out into the car and the street and the sun and you want to know her even before she looks up in surprise and then expectation so you’re stuck offering a silly little wave and an unnecessary “Need some help?”

“God, yes, thank you,” she says, slumping forward in exaggerated relief. “Trying to get Bob to come out is—” Yeah, it is. You nod. “This actually happens to me all the time, so I speak from experience.”

“Old cars,” you say sympathetically, but hers isn’t especially. Still, she pops the hood and you look around.

One of her spark plugs is fucked, a huge amount of oily black buildup. It feels a little strange to you, since all the others are perfectly clean. You reach out for a little of that magic around her to wipe it off, and it clears in one swipe. So you set it back, close the hood—

That’s when you realize. No, what the fuck, that wasn’t magic , that was—well, if it repaired a dead spark plug with one touch, it was probably magic, which you somehow stole from this stranger . You have to look up at her, and you can see she noticed.

“I’m sorry,” you say, “I have no idea what just happened.”

But she’s not mad. Surprised, yes. Alert. “How did you do it?”

“I don’t know,” you repeat. “I didn’t mean to—I don’t even—”

“No, that’s not what it mean, it felt— I can’t do that.”

You look at her for a minute. That alertness might be hunger, or hope. “Did it work?”

She turns the key and the engine starts, but she hasn’t shut her car door, and she turns it off again. “It worked,” she says, already stepping back out into the hot afternoon. Then she says, “I’m Tennessee.”

“Heather,” you say, holding out your hand to shake, though that’s a after the cart, you think. You’ve already pulled some invisible force from her body, and now you’re trying to shake her hand. But she goes along with it. You’ve seen her at a thing or two, so you know she lives in town, but she’s enough younger than you that your circles haven’t overlapped. And honestly, you don’t go to all that many things, given the hours you keep.

When Tennessee pulls away, she blushes and looks down, but she doesn’t get into her car. If she wants you to teach her to do what you did, she’s going to be disappointed. Not that you’d be averse to trying again, messing around, seeing how it worked—but this isn’t yours. She’s a stranger. You could give her your number; she’s beautiful enough she won’t be fazed. Do you have a business card with you?

But she says, “Um—” which is enough to pull your attention back to her. “This has—never happened to me before.”

You don’t apologize again. You don’t think that’s what she means.

“Could we maybe—try it again?”

You don’t have any more burned-out spark plugs. “Here?”

“Oh!” She chuckles, nervous. “Probably not.”

You do have a business card, and you pull it out; you can be the grown-up here. “Come by my farm,” you say. “This afternoon? Three o’clock?”

“I will,” she says, grateful, earnest, like it’s a promise she’s desperate to make.

Before she comes over, you prepare snacks. Not a normal, like, plate of crackers and one kind of cheese. You pipe filling into tiny tartlets and open your last jar of the summer’s blackberry jam. And sure, you like cooking, but you’re too grown to delude yourself that that’s the reason. You want her to know you’re capable. You may not shower magic behind you, but you keep dozens of creatures alive, prepare and carefully age cheese, turn it into beautiful things.

When you open the door to Tennessee, the magic licks the air around her like a fire. She offers you a little potted plant, one large leaf supporting a few small ones. “To thank you,” she says, oddly. “It’s a peperomia. It’s not poisonous to people or animals—I didn’t know if you had pets.” She looks around, doesn’t see any. You have barn cats, but not that kind of pets. “It’s pretty low-maintenance, just needs to be watered when the soil is dry.”

“No pets,” you say. You invite her in, and she takes her shoes off while you set the pot in the window above your kitchen sink. You want her to be comfortable, despite the odd dynamic where you’re the host but the conversation is hers to start. So you invite her to the table, where she crosses her legs underneath her. The magic reaches for your tarts, and you bat it away, look where it’s going and just swipe, some way that feels automatic though you’ve never done it before. Tennessee refuses soda, accepts water; you bet she drinks herbal tea. She’s not too shy to taste your baking and makes an impressed, satisfied sound.

And she asks about it. “This is your cheese?”

“One of them, yeah.”

“Wow,” she says, “that’s really incredible.” She makes a lot of eye contact. You bet people fall in love with her improbably fast. “Did you grow up farming?”

“No, actually,” you say, “but my cousin Natalie did. I run the business with her.” You leave out the details people tend to ask about—the cheesemaking apprenticeship, the other places you lived before landing, despite the best hopes of your younger self, in rural Ontario. Tennessee didn’t come here to hear your unabridged autobiography, and you want to know about her .

But she asks, with evident interest, “How did you end up in business together?” And it’s not that you think she’s faking, but clearly you’re going to have to be the direct one if you’re ever going to talk about what happened on the highway.

So you say, “That’s a long story,” though it isn’t.

“Right,” she says, looking down into her water glass. “About—” she gestures into the magic shifting around her.

You nod, then, because she isn’t looking at her, you say, “Yeah?”

She takes a sip of water. “I’ve always had it,” she says. “It’s a beautiful thing to live with. Unpredictable. I can’t control it.” She looks up, her direct eye contact almost overwhelming. “And no one else can either. I’ve never had anyone just take it like you did.”

“I didn’t mean to, really, I know it must have been intrusive—”

“It wasn’t intrusive!” she says, a little too fast.

“It was,” you say, because you’re pretty sure you basically touched her without permission, “and I’m sorry.”

Tennessee blinks. “Okay,” she says finally. “But—do you still want to see if you could do it again?”

You feel a rush of energy to your hands and have to stop them reaching out to twist a strand of magic from her. You’ve played over the memory of conducting it by the car so many times you’ve worn it down like a cassette tape. But the magic was warm and eager, that you know. “I’d—be happy to,” you say. You don’t want to insist. But she wouldn’t have suggested it if she didn’t want it, and you want it too, so why pretend. “I’d really like that.”

A smile cracks through on her face, warm and honest, and you can feel your own smile shift from reassuring to pleased, and then you’re both giving giddy little half-laughs. 

But they trail off. “So—here?” you say. 

“Yeah.” She looks calm now. Sits back in the chair.

You feel for the magic, and it rushes into your hands. On impulse, you make a little loop of your thumb and index finger and filter the magic through it, twisting a little, into a single manageable strand. But what to string with magic in your house? You thread it into the edge of the tablecloth, which gains an embroidered border of poppies. You’d like to grow poppies, but the ones you favor struggle in this climate. It doesn’t happen instantly, but you don’t think it takes too long—though it keeps you too focused to feel time passing, and you can’t deny it could be hours.

You don’t want to take too much from Tennessee, so you let the rest of the magic go.

She’s a little wide-eyed. “Was that okay?” you ask her.

“Yeah, that was—wow.” She nods. Pauses before she lands on, “Comforting.”

That wasn’t what you’d expected. “Comforting?”

“Like having someone brush my hair.”

Ronnie comes over for dinner—she, too, has a job that means an early-bird schedule—and you can’t not tell her. Ronnie doesn’t instigate or share gossip much, but she loves to hear it, and when you say, “I’ve been spending time with this girl,” her eyebrows go up. She knows you don’t date, and maybe she also disapproves of using the word “girl” for a grown woman, which you do too, but God, Tennessee is like maybe thirty, and from where you’re standing, she feels an awful lot like a girl. In the way that girl means she doesn’t know her power yet, means she’s still a little scared of herself—

“Spending time,” Ronnie says.

You say, “She’s magic, Ronnie. I mean literally. Not magical, like oh she’s so special, magic like suddenly my tablecloth has embroidered flowers on it because she sat down here to drink tea.”

You’re not sure why you leave out your part in the embroidered-flowers outcome, but it feels harder to explain. Ronnie fingers a poppy. “This is nice,” she said. Looks up at you with a grin. “You’re really fucked, you know that?”

In the next few weeks, you see more of her. She comes to you, most often mid-morning after the urgent chores are done. Sometimes you walk around the farm, magically repairing gates and sealing leaks, while she tells you about her charming magical mishaps—a vibrator suddenly turbo-charged, a tree that grows plums one year and cherries the next. The goats, if you let them, follow her around like Cinderella. Sometimes she joins you inside, where you tug her magic away from a scarf of yours it’s threatening to unravel while she asks about your family. She’s easy to talk to, Tennessee, intent and full of questions, and you feel all the things you once thought were a crush: you want to see her more, want to run into her in public, want to lie on the couch with her back against your front and your hand in her hair.

You get to that last one about two months in, a bit past your bedtime. She comes over in the late afternoon, and you use her magic to turn back the clock on a nearly-full bottle of wine that’s gone to vinegar since you opened it to use a cup in a recipe. You pour glasses for both of you and sit down on the couch with her, and at first you don’t even talk; you knit while she reads. But as the sun goes down and her glass empties, she leans into your shoulder. So after you get up for the bottle and the plate of cheese and fruit that’s going to constitute dinner tonight, after you come back and set them on the table, when she sits up to pour more wine, you slot right in behind her.

She notices, registers it on her face, but not with any real surprise. She leans back and says, “You know, if I knew you existed, I would have been waiting for you my whole life.”

You hadn’t thought about it that way, but once you do of course you agree, and you say so.

“I like being here with you.”

“Me too.”

“I mean,” she says, chuckling, “I’d probably rather be other places with you, but I assume that’s not a very practical option.”

“No,” you say. Then, because she’s been so open so far: “But as long as you want to stay, I want you here.”

She turns around to look at you, that intense gaze bright and glowing, her magic a halo. “Partners?”

You have no idea what she wants that to mean. You say, “Partners.”

You’re tilling your raised beds ahead of planting when Tennessee says, “We should go on a road trip.”

She’s a decent worker, Tennessee, but she has the tendency to get bored halfway through chores. In this case, though, she’s still turning the soil over, not looking at you; you wonder if it’s on purpose. It’s not impossible for you to leave town for a few days; the morning milking takes both you and Natalie, but there are a few people in town you can hire to step in. The goats don’t do as well for other people, though, and you prefer to start most cheeses with the freshest milk you can, so that’s really a somebody’s-dying kind of last resort. Every day was the commitment you made when you decided to get a herd of goats. And with spring and summer coming on, there’s all the outdoor work you neglected during the winter, vegetables to grow and preserve, a higher volume of milk and therefore of cheese to make—“I can’t,” you say apologetically. “Not overnight. I could probably get away by seven or eight one morning, though. We could go to Lake Superior?”

“Yeah.” She’s not good at hiding her disappointment. “That would be nice.”

The thing is, when you go, she’s lighter. It thrills and stabs you. She sings along to your CDs, which are mostly stuff she normally calls “mom music.” She identifies birds out the window and when she sees a heron, she clasps your shoulder in delight. She looks up the origins of place names and reads them out because she wants you to know them, too. She even says it straight out: “Ohh, doesn’t it feel so good to get out of town?” With her it does, her joy is loud, and you say so.

You get to the beach before noon, and she tumbles to the lake like it’s a friend she hasn’t seen. She’s a seal in the water, down and up and laughing, while you stand and enjoy it. When you drag yourselves to shore for lunch, you pull her on top of you and lie flat, pressing everything out of you that isn’t Tennessee today. You try to be so full of her, inhaling nothing but her hair and lakewater and magic, that no matter what happens you’ll always have enough.

She’s disappointed when you leave, too, but too tired to sigh about it. She drowses in the car while you drive, curved toward you, her magic gathered and relaxed near her belly, her face childlike smooth. Of course she’s so calm while you’re moving. In the end, maybe she's one of those marvelous things you get to have for a little while, like a life in France, or being always walking-distance from your college friends. That's what most of your loves are, in a world where people grow up and get married: a process of going from a friend's top priority to second to lower. Sometimes they get divorced and you pop up again, you and Ronnie new winter-night companions. If Tennessee comes back through town, you'll have dinner in the garden, let her crash on your couch, maybe stay up too late leaning against her being someone who touches, your everyday affection mellowed with distance into a special-occasion thing, more remembered than maintained. You've lived through that transition dozens of times, and though you didn't expect it with Tennessee, you should have. Tennessee shouldn't have to stay here and she won't want to.

If that's how it's going to be, it turns out, you will howl and grasp and shriek to stop it.

She’s knocking on your door at eleven at night. The waking is a sudden thud, but you aren’t unaccustomed to the dark hours; you’re there when things are born and when they die. You hurry to the door and find her in a cloud of sparking magic, contracted in on herself to get away. You can’t tell whether something’s happened, but she’s breathing in shallow gasps.

You have the impulse to pull her to you, but she didn’t come here for that.

You siphon off the magic and feed it, unshaped, to your houseplants. You have more of those since you met Tennessee: for her, things live effortlessly. People give her plants. That’s how you described her to your out-of-town sister on the phone, the kind of woman people give plants to. And in just months she’s propagating or dividing them, offering one to you. You’ve fed them extra magic before, and mostly they can take it. A couple out-of-season flowers, a growth spurt, a profusion of pups, maybe.

You have to take some care with how you place it, though. So you only know she’s shut the door when you hear the latch; you only know she’s coming closer because you can feel the magic around her. When you’ve tidied her up, rinsed her down to the usual halo, you pause and look her over. Bedraggled, but not physically harmed. The hair that’s not in her bun is stuck to her face with sweat, and she’s pale, but she’s standing up normally now. “That enough?” you say before you let go.

She nods, so you tuck the dangling magic back in. Then, finally, you hug her.

She comes to you easily, and though she’s taller than you are, she bends to rest her head in your neck. “Anything you want to talk about?” you offer. The adrenaline from startling awake isn’t going to wear off this fast.

She shakes her head. “Just happens sometimes,” she says in the space between her mouth and your clavicle. “And then—”

“And then?”

She shrugs. She’s the youngest you’ve ever seen her. “It has to go somewhere.”

You rub her back and you change the pillowcase on your second pillow and you watch her fall asleep in your bed. You sleep too, eventually, but you wake before the sun for the goats. And there she is, still breathing, still soaking magic into your blanket. You’d thought one of the unequivocal benefits of being aroace was not having to share a bed, but this morning, you don’t mind.

You could take some of the magic now, for yourself, and she wouldn’t notice. You think you could figure out how to set it in your chest like you set it in the roots of your plants—though you haven’t tried. Part of you wants to know what it's like to be so splendid; part of you wants to feel everything she feels. But it isn’t supposed to be yours, you know that. You’re lucky to get to carry it as long as she lets you.

And the goats need tending. It turns out you haven’t been running your hand through her magic but through her hair. It’s too early for her. You let her sleep.

You’ve been expecting the fight for so long that when it happens, you’re relieved. Not to mention severely underwhelmed. You’ve seen it coming, even tried to start it, but Tennessee is impossibly nonconfrontational, just passive aggressive as hell, and it’s not really a fight you have any part in; she’s going to have it with herself, at you. You know that. You’re ready for that. Waiting for it, even. The first time she made comments about how it sure would be nice if you two could spend three nights at this concert in the woods, you told her she should go—you didn’t want to limit her, you’d be right here when she got back. The last time she made comments about how it sure would be nice if you two could make it out to Manitoba during saskatoon berry season, you rolled your eyes and pointed out that you weren’t her house mother and she could go to Manitoba if she liked, and you wished she would. The more trapped she feels here, you’re sure, the sooner she’s going to flee.

She didn’t go, though. She stayed in town, came over in the evenings and read you poems while you wound her magic into your sprouting garden and tried not to think she was worse off for having you. You wondered if you could contain the magic somehow, pull it out of the way like hair into a braid, and you started to experiment. Still do, when you think she’s sufficiently engrossed. But it’s one thing to tie up the existing magic, another thing entirely to catch the flow of it.

So you haven’t worked it out by the time you two decide to drive to a farmstand you heard about near Elm Valley where they sell pie in the summer. Ronnie did a roof repair for them and told you the pie was “killer,” and you’ve never found her to be profligate with praise. You’re driving and Tennessee has one hand on your leg and both feet on the dash; you’ve given up trying to suggest she sit in ways that won’t kill her if you crash, in part because you’re privately convinced that in the immediate risk of a car crash you’d rely not on the wheel and the brakes but on magical intervention.

There’s a particularly ugly stretch of highway between you and Elm Valley: scrubby baseball fields with no kids on them, the county yard debris recyclers. “I can’t believe you decided to stay here forever,” she sighs.

Not a question—she knows why. And you don’t really need to insert any nuance between “forever” and “at least the next twenty years.”

“Well,” you say, because you haven’t yet realized this is the day she’s going to be willing to talk it out, “it turns out France already has enough people making cheese.”

“I wouldn’t know,” she says. And you figure she’s done, you’re just going to have a little worse time with the pie, nothing to see here. But she keeps going: “It’s such bullshit,” she says. “I’m not supposed to be a stay-in-place kind of person!”

You watch the road.

“And you! Have goats! You could not be more here! What kind of fucking joke?”

Tendrils of magic still reach for you, brush and wrap around your arm with that sweet alive sensation like the smell of growing chamomile. You twist a strand of it into something you can hold onto, set it under your two first fingers with the others still on the wheel.

“You don’t have to stay,” you tell her. “Just because I’m here.” It’s a lie; you’re telling the objective truth through gritted teeth, but you do need her to stay, actually.

“Why is your suggestion always that I leave you?” Her voice is raised, but it cracks.

The answer is so obvious you think she might get mad at you for saying it. Instead you say, “I always mean for you to come back.”

“I know,” she sighs.


She sighs.


“But I don’t like how it’s so easy for you to be without me, okay?”

Oh, no. Oh absolutely not. “I’m supposed to suffer if you want to leave? I’d miss you. But I don’t think—what you’re saying, it doesn’t sound healthy? Or fair. Or like love that’s good to have, even.” 

“No!” she says, a little desperately, “no, obviously I don’t want you to suffer, Jesus.”

“Okay, so then…”

“It’s not balanced?” she tries. “Because it’s really scary for me to be without you.”

“Yeah,” you say. You’ve made it to the pie place; you park. “But you know that doesn’t sound healthy either.” You get out of the car, and she does too. “Stay here,” you say because you don’t want to make a scene in front of the pie seller. Tennessee’s eyes go wide. She stays, though.

You choose strawberry because you don’t grow them—too much space for too little fruit, and too needy, you’ll take a row of raspberry canes or a patch of hardy rhubarb any day. Tennessee commented at planning time, and you knew with her you could grow remarkable strawberries, loud-flavored and impossibly dense on their plants. But adding them, against habit, would have meant redoing your plan for the space, and in the end, you didn’t accommodate her.

When she sees you coming back she gets into the car. You notice some magic trying to slip under the hood and flick it away. Inside the car she flinches.

You put the pie on the back seat and get in beside her. She’s red-faced, her breathing uneven. You drive home like that.

You’re expecting her to get into her car and drive off right the fuck away, but she goes to the garden and weeds. Tennessee weeding is an exercise in futility; at the same time as she’s pulling out unwanted plants, her undirected magic is feeding anything it can find, sprouting whatever came in on the wind. You change clothes and get started on a permanent repair to your fence. When you start to get hungry you go find her, still on her knees in the dust. The peas are starting to fruit, and you push some magic toward them. She twists away like you’ve grabbed her and snaps, “Don’t.” 

“Hey!” somebody calls from the road, and you head to the gate to find a tiny pale redhead with a face that’s all relief. “My car stalled on the highway—I got it off the road before it stopped, but do you have the number for a mechanic? I tried to look one up, but I couldn’t find any, and I just—” The words have raced each other out of her mouth, but now she stops and grimaces, a hurt twist of her face. “Need to get out of town.”

Tennessee keeps Bob’s number in her phone, and she reads it off. She’s standing a couple feet away from you, behind and off to the side. Close enough to reach out for but too far to touch. The stranger holds the phone to her ear, and you don’t want to seem like you’re eavesdropping, so you take a step back, careful to give Tennessee a wide enough berth that you don’t run into the magic, either. If some of it wafts toward you, well, Tennessee sighs, but she doesn’t say anything, so she knows it’s not your doing.

The woman—she’s young, younger than Tennessee, you think, and she looks like she’s having a hell of a day—hangs up and says, “They don’t even have voicemail?”

“Yeah,” says Tennessee, “Bob is…”

“I know some basic car repair,” you offer. “I could take a look if you want.” You’re being determinedly warm, sympathetic; you think the tension between you and Tennessee is probably filling most of Elm County, but your visitor is wrapped up in her own worry and just gives a hopeful, “Could you?”

It’s only a couple minutes to the car, luckily; you’d planned to offer to drive, but the woman was already setting off when you came out of the tool shed. You introduce yourself to fill the silence.

“I’m Rachel,” the visitor says, and she looks expectantly at Tennessee, who’s coming too, it looks like; she gives her name.

At the car, you have Rachel start her engine and it spins, quick and high. You take off the timing cover and the belt is broken. Some cars, this would be the end of the engine; she’s lucky there. But it isn’t something you can fix. 

You look at Tennessee. She knows what you mean and nods, so you reach in and magic it back together. You make magical repairs all the time, but usually you aren’t restoring a single smooth piece of rubber that’s going to be under constant tensile stress. It feels different from something that’s already a compilation of links and stitches. You think you’ve done it all right, but the risks are higher; if you fail, Rachel’s stuck in the middle of the road. You use the magic to slice the belt apart where you’ve repaired it, then let it go.

“You’ll have to get a new timing belt,” you tell Rachel, “and honestly, I’m happy to drive you to town, but any town in an hour’s radius, nothing will be open by the time we get there. We can push you to the house, though, you can stay on the couch.”

Rachel sets her face and nods. Then she says, “Wait, are you sure?”

“Yeah, of course. I mean, I get if you’re not comfortable, there’s a motel in town—” But Rachel’s face gives a hard no to that option.

“We have pie,” Tennessee adds, and Rachel nods again, obedient, behind the wheel, and the two of you get behind the car and start pushing.

“It didn’t work?” She’s not lording it over you; she seems concerned for you.

“It’s not like the things I usually fix. The whole thing was one piece. I put it back together, but I wasn’t sure it would stay.”

“Okay.” You’re grateful that she doesn't push harder.

At home, you cook and let Tennessee talk to Rachel. She does her wide-eyed listening thing, and Rachel tells her the whole story, how she spent over a decade on-again-off-again with Patrick, who owns the store where you sell your cheese. Honestly, it sounds like Rachel pretty seriously overdid it, like she should have let go a lot earlier. You watch Tennessee lay a comforting hand on her wrist and you can’t blame her even a little.

“And how long have you two been together?” Rachel asks over dinner, the most ordinary small talk in the world.

“A few months,” you say. Tennessee hasn’t said anything since you joined them at the table. “It’s platonic. Our partnership.” You still haven’t figured out whether it’s weirder to go out of your way to explain that you don’t fuck or to have a conversation where you and the person you’re talking to mean completely different things. You explain it more often than Tennessee does, you think, because you like to hear it, platonic and partnership together, out loud and ordinary at the kitchen table.

“Oh,” says Rachel quietly, And, “I never thought of that.” She shakes her head as though to clear it. “Sorry,” she says. “I’m obviously suffering the after-effects of my fourteen-year-old self thinking what you did with a close friendship was turn it into something else, so.”

“Well,” you say, “at fourteen I went out with a member of the debate team, so don’t beat yourself up.” Luis was nice, actually, but if you don’t say so, he sounds like a terrible choice. You don’t explain that you and Tennessee weren’t friends first, aren’t exactly friends now. This woman doesn’t want a qpr with the guy who brought your contract out here and smiled involuntarily every time you mentioned his business partner, but she’s also not going to get one, so you don’t exactly have to convince her. Instead you sweep your plates off the table into the sink and bring over the pie, whole in its tin, with bowls and ice cream, knife and spoons.

You and Tennessee were supposed to eat this pie together in the middle of the afternoon, standing up at the counter cracking forks through the golden top crust and down to the tin, not stopping until you’d gotten all you wanted. Instead you cut it into eight tidy slices and put one in each bowl, let each person serve her own ice cream, take it back to the freezer. Not a single one of you is happy, but you think the pie still tastes good.

Tennessee keeps hanging around after, washes the dishes, magically cracks one and lets you mend it, kind of just won’t leave. Finally she gets the specs for Rachel’s car and promises to come first-thing tomorrow with a timing belt. She stays while you replace it; she stays after Rachel drives off. Finally, not entirely kindly, you ask her, “What are you doing here?”

Her face goes from surprised to caught out. “Nothing,” she says. “Bringing the car belt.”


“I am,” she says. “Now I’m...going to work.” As though she were going much farther, she hugs you goodbye.

You can’t lie to her. Not in a sweet way—all you have worth lying about requires pulling the magic from her body to spin it orderly. Your only choice is to tell her what you’re thinking and hope she knows you’re asking out of love.

She stares at you. She’s silent for so long the muscles in your neck start to ache with the tension. Her lip starts to shake, her eyes go wide and dark, her whole face explains that this is wrong . You could have said nothing. You could have left everything sweet as it is in this town where she knows you want her.

What she says, in a thick dark voice, is, “That can’t be possible.”

“I mean, I’m not sure ,” you say, “but I think I can do it.”

“No, I mean that can’t be possible because if it is I could have had it this whole time .”

What you hear is: she doesn’t need you at all. Whatever it is you can do, it isn’t magic . You’ve known that, you’ve felt it, but it’s one thing to hear it in your own voice and another thing to hear it in Tennessee’s. Furious, you put water on for tea and stand at the kettle letting your chest cave in. Why is she still here, then, standing in the middle of your living room looking like a thunderstorm just emptied all the air in her head?

You make a single cup of ginger tea and carry it to your bedroom. Wallowing isn’t your style, but Tennessee isn’t the only one who can be disappointed. You sit on your laundry chair, which is currently home to a sweater and two socks that need mending. You can darn them by hand, like any ordinary person—like the person you were for forty-odd years before you met Tennessee and still are now, one with no magic of her own.

You’re relieved by the sharpness of the tea. This whole thing would be easier if you had really urgent chores to do. You’re just thinking of going to work on the fence when Tennessee appears in your doorway. “You could really do that?”

“I think so.” When she leaves you, the universe is going to bring a steady, solid adult into your life. Someone who already knows the limits of their own body. You could have that and be happy with it.

“Wow.” She’s looking at you with what you would like to see as admiration. Then she says, “And how long would it work?”


“Well, it can’t have infinite capacity, right? Would it be single-use? Would it last a few days?”

Oh. “I—we’d have to experiment.”

“Okay,” she says. “I’d like to try.”

Once you finish your tea—Tennessee lies on your bed, her magic continuing its course of embroidered flowers on your bedspread—you start with an actual, literal box. Cardstock, with a lid: you’d brought home a blown-glass Christmas ornament in it this winter. You twist the magic into sturdy coils to reinforce the sides and the lid of it, bound to each other and tied off neatly; you create a seal between lid and box where none existed. You decorate the black surface, too, with little sparks that look like they should really burn. They aren’t functional, but they make it feel magic. Tennessee sits obediently still, like a little girl having her hair braided.

The magnet—because that’s what you’re trying to do here, build a safe way to draw magic away from Tennessee and contain it—takes more planning. You break for dinner, which she cooks in your kitchen while you dig your hands into the rich air around her, feeling the magic twine up your arms and wondering what might draw it in. It mostly seems to cohere, attract itself; it certainly doesn’t flake off of her into a mystical confetti. But when you spin it tight, trying to create a locus of dense magic, that doesn’t become the center. 

You present this problem to Tennessee and she makes that whole-body eye contact she does and says: “Well, it likes you .”

At this point it’s twisted far enough up your arms to hit your shoulders. That actually might work.

You wonder for a moment what would be appropriately symbolic. An inch of hair? A drop of blood? But as soon as you know those aren’t the answer, you know what is.

You shake the extra magic off your arms and do your best to snip a strand of it. Carry it and the box into the living room, far enough away you won’t be chased. You’re pretty sure this isn’t going to hurt , but you’re prepared for some discomfort; you don’t know how it feels to have magic break your skin.

You press it into your chest. It doesn’t hurt, but it doesn’t become yours either; you weren’t made to become Tennessee. It stays a little bubble of itself.

You stretch it out so it reaches from hand to hand inside you, then push it back together again. There’s no solid feeling that tells you it’s been enough. Pulling with your hand like the magic's on a string, you drag it a little up and a little to the side to where you think your heart is; that doesn’t do it. You roll it around through your legs. You pull it thin, thin, to fill your whole body. It’s still a foreign object, so you spin it and spin it back together, like cotton candy onto a cone, hoping it’ll catch something of you in the gaps as it rolls up.

You pull it out through your chest, twist it further into a tight locus of magic, and fix it firmly in the bottom of the box. You can’t be certain, but you think it’s going to work.

Of course she leaves you; that was always going to happen. But it turns out she comes back. Over and over, for weeks and months at a time, she comes back. She wants to see you. She wants to tell you. She wants to lie on the couch with her back against your belly and hear about the changes you notice when you stay in one place. With the three boxes you soon make, she can stay away a few weeks, accumulate so much magic that you find yourself dumping it in your compost and inviting yourself into Ronnie’s closet to reinforce her sweaters. It isn’t rare, magic, not in life with Tennessee; it’s as everyday and marvelous and alive as a herd of goats, and sometimes as much of a chore. What’s rare is the force of her gaze, how ready she is for anything to happen, the way she smiles when she’s just waking up. She comes back from a week in the woods and you’re trying to make her shower but she won’t stop saying, “You’re not going to believe what I saw.”